Into the Future
Tablet PC and Mobile PC development is very popular today, and it will get more popular and important in the future. For Mobile PC developers, there are significant changes coming in the near future, some in the Windows XP timeframe, others in Windows Vista. This article provides an overview over what’s on the drawing board or already available in technology preview builds.
Since they were first released, Tablet PCs have gained significantly in popularity; as time goes on, they will move more and more into the mainstream. Currently, Tablet PCs run on a specialized version of Microsoft Windows XP. In the future, all Windows operating systems will support Tablet PC fundamentals, such as digital Ink.
In May 2005, for the first time, notebooks sales surpassed sales of desktop computers.
Mobile PC development has been important for a long time. In fact, in May of 2005, notebook sales surpassed desktop PC sales in the US for the first time ever (for a full month), and they have not given up their lead since then (nor are they predicted to). These devices are used in an ever-growing variety of scenarios, and expectations from features, such as extended battery life, are on the rise.
The Tablet PC and Mobile PC scenarios are of strategic importance to Microsoft, and as a result, many exciting new things are scheduled to release with Windows Vista and with new versions of the Tablet PC SDK, currently available as a CTP (Community Technology Preview) and which also runs on Windows XP.
Software developers are most interested in what software can do, which SDKs are available, and how they can use these components in their own applications. In Mobile PC and Tablet PC scenarios, the hardware is equally important, as it is part of what drives new scenarios and opportunities.
One of the obvious next steps is for devices to get both bigger and smaller in physical dimension to supplement the currently available devices. This means that devices will have much larger displays with higher resolutions. On the other end of the scale, devices are getting smaller, moving toward the domain that is currently solely occupied by Pocket PCs.
A development that may be less obvious and less expected is the move toward touch displays. Conventional Tablet PCs use electromagnetic digitizers to sense the tip of the pen on the display. This has advantages. For instance, it allows hardware manufacturers to mount the digitizer (the device that senses the pen) behind the LC display, providing better and brighter display quality.
There are also disadvantages. For instance, you always need a special pen that can be sensed by the EM digitizer. If lost, replacing it can be expensive. It is not possible to interact with the device without the special pen. On the other hand, it is possible to double-tap an icon with a finger(nail) on Pocket PCs (which typically use touch-sensitive digitizers.
Touch screen Tablet PCs provide an additional option. The reason we have not seen them before is that there are some technical hurdles that need to be overcome to provide touch-sensitive displays. The problem is that people rest their hands and arms on the large Tablet PC displays while writing. This is not a problem on smaller devices such as Pocket PCs. On larger displays, it is important to differentiate between a tap of a fingernail that is meant to select an icon (or interact in another meaningful way), and the tap of a fingernail or palm pressure that occurs accidentally while writing with the pen. The software has to do a lot of intense processing to filter unwanted “noise” from meaningful interaction data.
Touch devices have the disadvantage that hovering fingers can not be detected the same way a hovering electromagnetic pen can be. Hovering (or any mouse movement that is not a click) is therefore not natively available on touch devices. Microsoft provides software that makes up for that shortcoming.
For developers, these new devices provide new opportunities, and they also create some new challenges. Higher screen resolutions in Windows Vista will rely on resolution-independent display technologies. This can be handled through vector graphics and exciting new techniques and APIs such as the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) formerly known as Avalon. (For more information on WPF, see below.)
Smaller form factors also require some developer consideration. User interfaces that may have worked well on 1024x768 displays may not work well on smaller devices, so developers may have to account for that in their applications. Using techniques such as flow layout (a layout option available in WPF) are helpful in these scenarios. Using this approach, user interfaces can re-flow to accommodate smaller displays without the need for the dreaded horizontal scrollbar, which is known to not work well at all.
By: Ellen Whitney
Ellen Whitney, Vice President
Ellen Whitney is Vice President of EPS Software Corporation, as well as a senior developer specializing in the design and implementation of object-oriented software systems. Ellen’s thorough knowledge of the development process has benefited many clients as well as having made her a lecturer and international author. She is also Managing Editor of CODE Magazine and has been architecting software since 1989. In her current role she works extensively with the Sales and Marketing Departments and is responsible for setting the overall goals and direction of the company.
By: Markus Egger
Markus is the founder and publisher of CODE Magazine and EPS' President and Chief Software Architect. He is also a Microsoft RD (Regional Director) and the one of the longest (if not THE longest) running Microsoft MVPs (Most Valuable Professionals). Markus is also a renowned speaker and author.
Markus' spends most of his time writing production code. The projects Markus has worked on include efforts for some of the world's largest companies including many Fortune 500 companies. Markus has also worked as a contractor for Microsoft (including the Visual Studio team). Markus has presented at many industry events, ranging from local user groups to major events such as MS TechEd. Markus' written work has been published extensively and in magazine ranging from MSDN Magazine, to Visual Studio Magazine, and of course in Markus' own CODE Magazine and much more. Markus is a supporter of communities in North America, Europe, and sometimes even beyond.
Markus currently focuses on development in .NET (Windows, Web, Windows Phone, and WinRT) as well as Android and iOS. He is passionate about overall application architecture, SOA, user interfaces and general development productivity and building maintainable and reusable systems.
In his spare time, Markus is an avid windsurfer, scuba diver, ice hockey player and world traveler. On a rainy day, he is known to enjoy a good game on his PC or Xbox.
Mobile PCs and Tablet PCs are of utmost strategic importance to Microsoft. This market segment is growing steadily, to a point where today, more notebook than desktop computers are sold in the US. New developments in hardware, software, developer tools, and SDKs enable developers to take advantage of a great number of opportunities.